Monday, December 31, 2012

During my vacation...

Besides all the wonderful Christmas prayer, liturgies and rituals throughout the last week, I fell upon a great book that I can't help but share with you. It is the seventh in a series of mysteries set in rural Quebec and there is a charming and attractive overarching French and wilderness feel throughout the story.

The Chief Inspector, Armand Gamache, is one of those rare, high moralled, kind, humble and intelligent legendary detective figures that we all dream exist in our imperfect world. The Beautiful Mystery has Gamache enter the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, the home of 24 Gilbertine monks, cloistered and carrying on the life there, all but "invisibly," over the last four centuries! They have but one specialty: Gregorian Chant--sung better, clearer and more beautifully than anywhere else on earth.

When the choir director/prior is found murdered, the Surete is called in. Louise Penny must have visited a monastery or thoroughly picked the brain of some monastic, for there is no way she imagined this quite accurate look into community life. Armand's experience at Saint Gilbert's, both spiritual and professional, is a great read--especially for those of us who also know the insides of monastic life.

12+ inches turned our world into a beauty.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Behind the scenes

When choosing photos to share here I usually choose ones that are in the public areas of the monastery, ones you'd see if you were here right now. Today, however, I chose ones that you would not see, here or not. These are all photos taken from little nooks and crannies in the residential areas of our sisters. Decorating goes on there, "behind the scenes," as much as in the common areas.

Hoping your Christmas week is going well and you had times of sharing with family and friends, either in person, via Skype or by phone.

As I'm sure you've seen on The Weather Channel, Erie was in the path of the storm that came northeast from the Gulf. When it reached us it arrived as snow--our first real storm. I think 5-8" are predicted, but with schools closed and many of us on abbreviated schedules this week, it couldn't come at better time--except for travelers, of course. It's suppose to clear out by mid-day the 27th. Let's hope.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas comes bounding in

After steadfastly hanging onto Advent in a Christmas-all-month culture, we let Christmas in with a vengeance this weekend. See below:

The tall, skinny chapel tree.

The fat unadorned community room tree.

Now decorated.

The Dicken's village bakery.

The Dicken's village.

Looking out back.

And from the dining room door.

The Windsock Visitation by Michael McGrath.

The community room's creche.

Friday, December 21, 2012


Here's a photo of our large Peace sign that we put up every Christmas. It's right on East Lake Road, near our permanent Mount Saint Benedict Monastery sign. I took it last week one night long after dark when I was driving in. You can just see the bell tower between the two signs.

Monday, December 17, 2012


I'll be taking a brief hiatus from my blog this week. I'll be back with you next Monday. Please remember my mother in your prayers, she was a great woman.

April 29, 1924--December 16, 2012

Follow the O Antiphons on our website--December 17-23.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Concert

We'll all be trooping out to North East (a little borough about 8 miles east of us) Friday night to attend the annual North East Choral Club Christmas Concert at Park United Methodist Church. One of our sisters has been a member of this choir for a number of years and we support her and the group by attending, en masse, this annual event. The church will be packed, as it always is, and the music of this all-female group will be very, very fine.

It has a small town touch every year, too--with the local high school choir often joining them for a number or a local trio of guys in Santa Claus hats playing along on a few songs. All are very good musicians and it is a favorite holiday event for all of us "locals."

This year however they'll be singing of an imaginary white Christmas in the midst of our still-green area. No snow even on the horizon, except for the occasionally predicted snow flurries.

Sweet memories:

This week in 2011--the library courtyard.

This week in 2010--the back patio.

This week in 2009--my window bird feeder.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Advent specials

Here's an old but beautiful Advent hymn, "Lo, how a rose e'er blooming." It came to mind because of this--a perfect white rose that bloomed in our courtyard garden this week! We did have a couple 60+ degree days, but this was unexpected. We'll enjoy it's beauty either way.

Lo, how a Rose e'er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse's lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah 'twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
Mary we behold it, the Virgin Mother kind.
To show God's love aright, she bore to us a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

The shepherds heard the story proclaimed by angels bright,
How Christ, the Lord of glory was born on earth this night.
To Bethlehem they sped and in the manger they found Him,
As angel heralds said.

This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

Otherwise I want to encourage you to visit our community's site and see a) the SBA Christmas party Smilebox. Even if you're not a grad, it's fun to watch and b) the latest issue of The Mount magazine just published this weekend. It's online--scroll down a bit--on the left. Great stuff!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Happy St. Nicholas

Nothing overly "exciting" going on this week! The First Week of Advent has us remembering the Advent songs that we haven't sung in 48 weeks; most of us are resisting the Christmas buying frenzy as much as we can (though I admit publicly to being the purchaser of 62 gifts--online, of course--for the Emmaus Children's Christmas project--kids' clothes are so cute!).

Our weather has continued to fluctuate from the 60s to the 30s, back and forth, up and down. Yesterday we took a walk in the barely-light-of-day, before prayer, and found that the gray and tans and overall bleakness of our woods and surrounding areas have a beauty still---in a strangely sparse and wintry way.

One of our sisters came around the corner of the house yesterday, went to push back the hood on her jacket and almost literally ran into one of our deer. Both were equally shocked. He just stared, she knew enough to just stop and then she saw its twin a few yards away. A rare and up close encounter for sure. They have been closer and closer to the house, especially after sunset.

Here is a sweet little Advent scene in our dining room. Easy to miss, but very nice.

Oh, there was one "wild" thing this week...the St. Benedict Academy annual alumnae Christmas dinner and 92-baskets raffle! Nearly 500 attended and had their usual terrific time.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Advent is here

The beginning of Advent was very, very nice. We had a community gathering Saturday afternoon where we were lead through a couple hours of reflection, conversations--both serious moments and fun moments. Then everyone stayed for supper (spaghetti--our favorite!) and the first Vigil of Sunday. It is held in dim light which gives the chapel, especially the candle lighting ritual, a special atmosphere. The choir was good, the reflections by Sister Margaret were excellent and we had many visitors that joined us. The only thing that was a bit "odd" was the weather...50s and rainy. No one's complaining, but it is not our average!

And then on Sunday morning it was a continuation of our entrance into the Advent season. How nice to hear a new version of "O come, O come Emmanuel."

Finally, here's an excerpt from our Give Us This Day readings for the weekend:

For Jack's 10th birthday, the family went out to eat at his favorite restaurant. Jack always ordered extra so he could enjoy the leftovers the next day. After dinner, Mom, Dad, Jack and his best friend were walking to the car when a homeless man stopped them and asked for a couple bucks. Unprompted, Jack offered the man the Styrofoam container of his precious leftovers. As Jack's Mom followed the boys into the parking lot she overheard his friend say to Jack, "Wow, man, that was cool. I bet that sure made God proud." Jack answered his friend, "Maybe that was God."

Thursday, November 29, 2012


I got a strong reaction to my mathematical diversion in Monday's blog from a friend who herself is a computer geek! Okay, okay, I told her, I won't do that again soon! She probably had to check it first to be sure I got it right--that's the way we math-types are--continually proving, proofing, double checking. It's a curse!

So today I am happy to report that the "in between" week is going along just fine in fact, as we head toward Advent's beginning. This Saturday we have a small community Advent reflection gathering before the Vigil of the First Sunday. A nice way to start.

Those who know that we, as a whole community, have a common reading during both Advent and Lent, always ask what we've chosen. This year we have copies of the Liturgical Press-produced Give Us This Day for the month of December. It gives the readings and prayers of both the Eucharistic liturgies and a short Liturgy of the Hours. It also has other prayers and wonderful reflections on "saints," most not well known. We will all be getting a subscription to it in 2013, so we wanted to introduce it to the sisters and, more importantly, enjoy a very good publication.

My new morning companion.

Monday, November 26, 2012

No wasted degree

In deference to my degrees in mathematics and analytical pursuits--such a necessity for the spiritual journey--I share with you some thoughts on the anomaly of this "in between" week.

Up until the 1930s Thanksgiving was not celebrated on a universal day. Some states celebrated it on the fourth Thursday in November, some on the last. But at the urging of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the business community, Congress passed a law in 1941 setting the fourth Thursday, not the last Thursday in November, as the official Thanksgiving holiday. Since then we know that Thanksgiving will fall on any of the seven days from November 22nd through the 28th. My own parents were married on the last possible day, but I knew a teacher who was also married on Thanksgiving on November the 1930s!

This Thanksgiving reflection is just a warm up to the same idea on the First Sunday of Advent. Advent's beginning is always between November 27th and December 3rd. In five of those cases (November 27th-December 1st) it falls on the Sunday of the Thanksgiving weekend. (Are you still with me or even interested?!!) Just joking; I can throw in the Pythagorean Theorem if you wish, giving you one more chance to master it before too much longer.

To continue: When the First Sunday of Advent falls on December 2nd or 3rd, there is a week between Thanksgiving and the beginning of the Advent season. Ta da: 2012.

Now, I'm not quite sure what the conclusion to all this is, it's just something to notice. Personally I do have a favorite combination which occurred just last year. Thanksgiving was on November 24th and Advent began November 27th. It is my favorite because we had four full weeks of Advent, with Christmas also on a Sunday. If you are into the liturgical calendar even in the slightest it may be your favorite, too.

So anyway, back to reality. Here we are in the last week before Advent but our thoughts are already turning toward it here at Mount St. Benedict. Temperatures have plummeted this week and snow flurries have been with us: soon to become real snow flakes and accumulate surely. The nights are longer and darker every day and I know that the pre-Advent liturgical signs will start to show as the week goes along.

One final thought (thanks for persevering through all this!): the holiday cacti are blooming all over the house now. Here are two quite opposite ones: the white one is very small and delicate, the red/pink one is huge and overgrown. Yet, both were used in our Sunday chapel decor yesterday and were just beautiful.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Much gratitude

Our Sister Joan Chittister has a new book just released this week: The Art of Life. It is the 2011 Monastic Way, which is always valued by readers since it brings the monthly pamphlet into a more permanent edition.

Many of her annual Monastic Ways are in book form but what amazed me about this one is that the publishers, Twenty-Third Publications in Connecticut, spent the extra money to buy the rights to all the art work on which the year's reflections were based. I'm sure many of the readers will be surprised when they open the book and find it full of the full-color reproductions of the master works. It makes the book just beautiful and much more than written reflections.

Isn't this google doodle a beauty? From India.

If you haven't been on our community website almost daily this week you're missing many new posts. There has been a great deal of activity these days--WOW!

Monday, November 19, 2012


This past Friday we had a unique and quite wonderful experience as we hosted the funeral service of one of our oblates--an interfaith, creative and memorable service at that.

This oblate, Cecile, was an artist, a devoted friend to many and diverse people, and a committed member of the groups and causes that she believed in. It seems that for her funeral all of the people and memories from her life came together--as the Erie art community, her family and friends, her Presbyterian, Methodist and Catholic communities rejoiced in her life and its effects on them.

Two of our liturgy planners met for nearly two hours with the ministers and family and came up with a beautiful service. We were so blessed to be exposed to such diversity and richness.

Deep purple flowers from the funeral.

Trying to capture our gigantic fireball sunsets these days. And at 5:00 pm to boot!

Don't miss the fun Smilebox of our annual dinner for our local volunteer firefighters unit. It's on our community site.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thanksgiving project

We've embarked this week on what started out as a small idea and has become a large project: collecting winter wear for the refugees enrolled at our St. Benedict Education Center. Thanks to boxes from our friend who owns a local Hallmark Gold Crown Store, we started to build this mountain of boxes in our library--labeled Boots, Blankets, Sweaters, Coats/Jackets, Gloves, etc. Suddenly we were going back to the Hallmark store for more boxes and piling them 2-3 high!

The Sisters have been most generous in responding to this real and present need. The collection runs through this Sunday which will get the Erie-winter gear into SBEC right before Thanksgiving. One good-intentioned sister said to me, "Maybe we should open this to our oblates, too." My response? "There are 280 of them! We'll have more than we can handle just with the 100 of us--maybe another time!"

P.S. We had our first measurable snow this Tuesday: an inch and a half--but more will surely come!

Monday, November 12, 2012


After a very busy week that kept right on going through Saturday, two delights that Sunday brought: the first, reading a new book by one of our sisters. Here's a teaser for you and a link to Benetvision. Very nice "stuff." You could substitute your own word for "Monk" in the title and your own experiences in the poems--I'm sure it wouldn't be hard at all.

New Book from Sister Mary Lou: Old Monk

"The poems in Old Monk are inspired by Han-shan, a 9th century Chinese poet and recluse, whose poems are collected in the classic book, Cold Mountain. For my morning spiritual practice, I read a poem from Cold Mountain, reflected on it, and then wrote my own poem and short commentary in response," said Sister Mary Lou of the new collection.

From Old Monk:
Old Monk has spent fifty years in the monastery.
She is left with a life of good deeds,
at least three friends to carry her casket
a bagful of poems
and a nagging ache
that she chose the wrong road
when she left father and mother
for some sake or other.

The second delight: a warm front came through this corner of northwestern Pa. this weekend bringing near 70 degree temperatures--a last goodbye till April I fear. But it was beautiful nonetheless. Afternoons and evenings outdoors without coats, collegians in shorts (of course) and kids playing everywhere.

Here are three bursts of color that we found on an afternoon walk around our place.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Too busy

We're just too busy this week! Tuesday night many of us traveled the 35 or so miles south to Edinboro University to hear our Joan Chittister speak to a packed audience on the state of women in the world today. Much of it was based on her own travels and experiences over the last 10-15 years. It was a very serious talk, almost a university lecture. You could hear the proverbial pin drop--on the carpeted floor. Edinboro is inaugurating its first female president this week and is holding a week-long series of events in celebration.

Last night it was out and about again. Up to the annual Liturgy for Deceased Religious, Priests, Deacons and others. Our new bishop presided and we "took our music show on the road" so to speak. It's always a nice and well-attended event, but since the Sisters of Mercy Motherhouse is located 2-3 miles south of the lake, on the beginnings of the rise up and away from the flatter lake shore, we have had some horrendous November snowy nights at this event. Carrying 25 pound handbell cases is hard enough; in the ice and snow it's miserable. But not this year--or the last few even. Our early Novembers can be cold, but there hasn't been much snow lately; in fact the weekend is predicted high 60s. Imagine!

The Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti throughout the monastery don't seem to mind that there's no snow in sight. They react to the changing light and temperatures. Here's the first one to burst into bloom: Sister Colette's. We even used it as part of the chapel environment last Sunday. A couple of mine are just starting with buds and are sure to appear in upcoming posts!

Monday, November 5, 2012

November days

In November, because of its beginnings of All Saints and All Souls, I presume, we remember those who have passed before us into the next stage. For us it is our Community of Life program, where each sister receives six, eight or ten cards for people who have asked for our prayers. These prayers are for the living and the dead, for relatives who are sick, or children suffering the experiences of youth, or just for people who are important to them--who they care about. I enjoy this praying together very much--I read through the cards every day and do add my prayers to theirs.

November days are special, too, for feasts, both liturgical and from the civic world--as the crazed commercialism of our holiday season begins with a vengeance.

This weekend we escaped a busy time of guests and retreatants to take a walk through our woods and down to the lake. Color is quickly disappearing from the natural world around us. We found some leftover spots, but mostly we were in a brown, tan, grey world. It has its own beauty, I suppose, in its sparseness and scarcity. Sort of like a photo printed in that sepia tone. Not quite black and white yet not full color either. In between, just like November.

Mary Oliver's take on November:

"Visiting the Graveyard"

When I think of death
it is a bright enough city,
and every year more faces there
are familiar

but not a single one
notices me,
though I long for it,
and when they talk together,

which they do
very quietly,
it's in an unknowable language--
I can catch the tone

but understand not a single word--
and when I open my eyes
there's a mysterious field, the beautiful trees.
There are the stones.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

All Saints

As followers of this blog know, my office desk at the Mount faces outwards into our beautiful inner courtyard garden and particularly at a statue of the Blessed Mother who makes regular appearances in this blog.

When I pivot 180 degrees I'm looking directly out the door into the hall. But not just into any ordinary hall. This hall has a long display case filled with Brother Thomas' ceramics.

This week the sister who is in charge of changing these displays all over the house, changed "mine" and here it is--beautiful golden brown pieces of various sizes and styles.

Ah, outdoors in one view and artistic beauty in another. Who could stare at a computer screen for hours on end?!

Don't miss our community website and photos of our busy weekend last Friday-Sunday with events and lots and lots of oblates.